When I was a teenager, my father and I went to Canada to visit family for a couple weeks. We stayed at the family lake property in a camper while the rest of the clan piled into the cabin. My dad finished his book and asked me for something to read. I had brought along two books. I gave him the one I had just finished, The Sun Also Rises.
I don’t remember what I was reading but after an hour or so I remember him tossing the book at me with a disgusted look on his face saying, ‘Nothing happens’.
Not much does happen but it doesn’t happen beautifully.
At that age, I was too young and inexperienced to understand the book and not educated enough to get its subtleties. I turned fault in my family into a virtue in this instance. My family had a habit of making any mistake or different into not just a mistake or difference but a judgement on your value as a person. I took my father’s dislike of this book as a judgement against me. However, I liked the book. I liked Hemingway’s way of writing – his short declarative sentences followed by his long repetitive, sometimes hypnotic ones. I liked the fact that, at that time, he wasn’t fashionable. I turned my father’s judgement around and read everything I could by the man. I wore it as a badge of honor and judged him lacking. Family, it’s insidious sometimes.
To be honest, I like Hemingway’s short stories much better but I’ve decided to revisit his novels. It’s been a couple decades since I’ve read The Sun Also Rises. Yes, I understand now my dad’s critique. Not much happens. I have a shorter attention span now. However, there is much more to appreciate than plot in this book. I would recommend reading it with a copy of Cliff’s Notes (it’s online) so you get the subtlety. If nothing else, Cliff let’s you in on all of the subtle illusions Hemingway makes to Jake’s impotence – people telling him to get up, elevators not lifting when he’s going to see a girl, policeman’s batons being waved at him when he’s with a girl, Heck, even the sun rises but not poor Jake.
There are simply wonderful passages you can read and re-read. There is wisdom in this book, written by a twenty-something war veteran. This book can teach you to write. It gives you a glimpse into a time. A look at PTSD circa 1925.
Passages I highlighted:
“It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night is another thing.”
“Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters.”
“My head started to work. The old grievance.” [Stewing over his wound]
“This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”
“Irony and pity.” I’m going to use this for a novel title some day.